The Disciplinator

While career counselor Melissa Ledford scrutinized my Strengths Finder results, I sat on my hands to resist tapping the tiny round table. Melissa’s office was as hip as a grey eight-by-ten cubicle can be—she’d added collage of several young couples’ wedding photos, a widescreen white Mac desktop, and a sleek black file cabinet.

Finally Melissa looked up. “Achiever, Intellection, Discipline,” she pronounced. “Sound about right?”

I wiped my palms on my jean shorts. Sure, that sounded ok. She asked me to describe how I possessed each trait. Easy. Until I got to discipline. Then I sat on my hands again.

Unfortunately, I’m somewhere on the Discipline scale between Monk’s pathetic-ness and a Marine’s pure awesomeness (Remember how I noticed Melissa’s nifty file cabinet?). The previous four traits, though nerdy, at least enjoy some glimmer of glamour: BMWs are for Achievers; NASA is for Intellect-ors; and Hufflepuff is for Disciplinators.

Melissa looked at me expectantly. I started mumbling about the myriad times I’d planned ahead for the unexpected. How I’d guzzled tourist German before going to Austria, tourist Greek before going to Greece, and basic elvish before going to high school. And I’d scurried into action before our nighttime croc hunt in Queensland. I marinated myself in insect repellant, interrogated the tour guide about his rifle, and made my peace with God before getting into the splintery tub-sized boat.

Then I remembered when I’d planned something so well, it seemed utterly random to those involved. For my roommate’s twentieth birthday, I’d plotted to kidnap her. One sunny April afternoon, our roommate Kelly and I crouched next to the Longhorns orange vanity in our dorm room. Kelly checked her watch. “Five more minutes…”

Then Jenna opened the door. Like two giddy kittens on a mouse hunt, we pounced, thrusting a flowery pillowcase over her head. Some very urbane protest ushered from her lips—“Urgh!” or something—as we pinned her arms to her sides and tied a thick black cloth decorated around her eyes.

Jenna shuffled down the long hallway festooned in garish Danny Tanner sweaters and across the parking lot we call Death Valley. All the energy we’d corked during the crawl to Kelly’s scarlet Civic burst when we reached it. Kelly started the car. I popped the trunk, sat Jenna onto the back bumper, and pushed her rear-first into the trunk. Jenna wailed like a startled peacock.

Laughing, I darted away as Kelly backed up the Honda and revved it forward a few feet. Kelly slammed on the breaks and tumbled out of the driver’s seat, giggling as she unlocked the trunk. Curled in the fetal position, Jenna snapped her head towards us. I bet she gave us that “look” of hers—like a frog aiming its foot-long pink tongue at some juicy-looking, germ-infested fly. “Did you want me to kick out the taillights?”

“No,” I said, still laughing. We extricated her from her from the car’s bowels and strapped her into the backseat.

When we arrived at the grey parking garage, Kelly and I wrestled Jenna from the backseat and prodded her forward. We swerved around orange traffic cones, dodged half-eaten ice cream sandwiches, and squeezed between parked minivans. Toddler boys wearing Grumpy T-shirts and preschool girls skipping along in princess dresses gawked at Jenna.  Scuttling along with a flowery pillowcase over her head, Jenna was a bright spot in the dreary parking garage just like those wide-eyed kids.

With Kelly snapping photographs, I escorted Jenna towards her journey’s carefully-plotted climax. We didn’t pause at the metal room’s threshold, but stepped straight through the open door of no return. With a push of two buttons, the door slid silently shut, and we plunged downward.

Jenna screamed.

And kept screaming.

When the door opened, our captive shot from the elevator like the pink tongue from the frog’s mouth. Jenna tore off the flowery pillowcase and whirled around. With her huge brown eyes, she looked just like a little girl in a princess dress. “Disneyland!”

When I’d told Melissa the story, I realized I was leaning forward, holding my hands above the table, as if I had just squealed “Disneyland!” along with Jenna. My face felt sore. I’d been grinning for several minutes straight.

“Jenna said it was the best birthday surprise she’d ever had.”  I folded my hands on the table.  

“And you planned it.” Melissa underlined the word “Discipline” with her ballpoint pen and drew a smiley face next to it. And Hufflepuff didn’t seem all that bad.

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